Short-term thermal treatment is used in the food industry for a wide range of products such as milk, mixed drinks or liquid foods. This treatment kills off any pathogenic micro-organisms and extends the shelf life of the products. Since high-pressure homogenization may not re-contaminate food products after thermal treatment, it must be ensured that all components being used have a hygienic or – even better – aseptic design, material selection and integration. To date, packed plunger pumps have primarily been relied upon as the type of pump technology installed in these applications. However, in terms of aseptic production safety, using these pumps is only the second-best choice. This is because, despite a design that accounts for plunger packing components with sterile barriers and flushing systems, there is a risk of recontamination after in-process CIP/SIP cleaning. Furthermore, the thermal load created here results in increased wear on the plunger and its sealing system. The consequence is a significantly reduced service life, especially when the food product being treated contains abrasive ingredients. One alternative is to use process diaphragm pumps. They feature a hermetically tight liquid end, which is hermetically separated from the hydraulic chamber and process environment by a diaphragm. This prevents the inside of the fluid chamber from becoming contaminated, ruling out any contamination of the process space—including the food product.
Listeria in cheese, E. Coli bacteria in meat and salmonella in baby formula—food scandals and recall campaigns by major manufacturers have become all too frequent in recent times, damaging the reputations of the manufacturers responsible. This phenomenon has been increasing customer awareness and putting more pressure on the industry. Especially for sensitive products and products with high hygienic standards, it is absolutely imperative to ensure hygienic production through flawless hygienic process steps, as this guarantees microbiological integrity. In doing so, the following points must be kept in mind: Safe and reliable aseptic manufacturing processes are necessary in achieving high microbiological quality and lasting stability while still meeting the customers’ high expectations for aspects such as high taste quality , healthiness and sustainability of the product. Short-term thermal treatment (UHT processes) and consistent downstream aseptic technology present a possible solution to this problem using reliable food-processing technology.
New trends in the food and beverage sector such as unprocessed and innovative ready-to-eat products pose certain challenges to the food industry supply chain with regard to food safety. This applies to both increasing expectations for freshness and the additives and preservatives put into food, which make it necessary to invest in different technologies than those used in previous production processes. The production chain is further affected by crossover-products between the food and pharmaceutical sectors such as ready-to-drink “nutritional beverages,” as they are called, which sometimes contain high proportions of abrasive solids (e.g. due to calcium and nuts) or ingredients with microbiological sensitivity. In producing such crossover products, empirical knowledge from the pharmaceutical GMP environment is advantageous. Here, nutritional supplements with functional milk protein sources, fruits and flavors are combined to form new beverages, which may require special attention during production depending on their acidity and pH values. These high requirements must be adhered to specifically when formulating baby foods and high-calorie clinical nutrition (liquid enteral/parenteral foods). During processing, there are key tasks that must be handled by the pump technology specifically, e.g. for feeding raw materials and creating formulations that match the recipe, including metering and mixing ingredients at the correct proportions. Since the end products are ideally stored at room temperature and are supposed to last for an extended time in shelf, short-term thermal treatment is recommended here as well. It is the optimal technology for killing off foreign germs at a high rate and should be followed by aseptic high-pressure homogenization using diaphragm pump technology. This prevents re-contamination and ensures gentle product treatment.
Freedom from residue and microbial safety in high-pressure homogenization
High-pressure homogenization is an application field that poses particular challenges to pump technology. The systems used in this field consist of a high-pressure pump used as a pressure generator in addition to a hydraulic consumer, which is called the homogenization valve. The purpose of the pump is to generate the energy for dispersion in the valve, to convey the fluid being dispersed and to ensure the exact flow rate in the process.
Working principles of high-pressure pumps for homogenization applications
The reciprocating high-pressure pumps that the high-pressure homogenization machines are equipped with are necessary for pumping the fluid from the suction side through a feed pump (usually a centrifugal pump) by increasing pressure on the homogenization unit (single-stage or two-stage valve). Homogenizer pumps are equipped with three to six pump heads. Process diaphragm pumps stand out for their robust mono-block design and because of the integrated worm gear with high hydraulic output thanks to very smooth running. Fluid valves with application-specific designs that have been optimized for wear and hygiene ensure reliable pumping on both the intake and discharge sides of the pump. Automated homogenization valves are controlled pneumatically and hydraulically. The droplet size during homogenization is determined mainly by the cavitation in the chamber of the second stage and is dependent on the pressure-drop there. Assuming incompressible fluids are handled, the flow rate of a reciprocating diaphragm process pump is reduced by a small amount as pressure increases and can be treated as a nearly constant value. Pressure fluctuations between a reciprocating pump and the homogenizer valve can be countered using pulsation-smoothing measures. This includes selecting suitable operating points for the pump and damping measures on the piping. Here, very specific dynamic simulation programs carried out within the scope of a pulsation analysis can provide support in the design.
For homogenization tasks following UHT treatment, the homogenization pump and the homogenization valve must consistently meet aseptic requirements so that the integrity of the products being treated remains ensured. However, many pumps still in use today are packed plunger pumps. For this type of unit, note that plunger packing components with sterile barriers and flushing systems must be incorporated into the design as a measure of preventing recontamination after in-process CIP/SIP cleaning. Moreover, contaminations caused by plunger abrasion in the packing area cannot be ruled out for this pump class. The preferable option for aseptic processes is thus to equip the homogenization steps with hermetically tight process diaphragm pumps.
Diaphragm pump technology eliminates fluid contamination
The diaphragm pump can be viewed as a successful evolution of the packed plunger pump. The diaphragm pump reaches an efficiency of up to 95 percent (in reference to what are called triplex diaphragm pumps, i.e. featuring three pump heads). The pump is set apart thanks to its low amount of wear and thanks to flow rates that are nearly independent of the discharge pressure. In homogenization applications, you benefit tremendously from the fact that diaphragm pumps are designed to operate without dynamic sealing systems. This guarantees a hermetically tight pump head, meaning zero emissions or substrate leaks from inside the system as well as zero ingress of germs from the outside. As a result, fluid contamination can be ruled out. This means that the diaphragm pump is the perfect solution for demanding applications. It is suitable for media that, for instance, have to be pumped with zero leaks and absolute operating reliability because they are hazardous or abrasive and must under no circumstances be released into the production environment, or media such as baby formula that have to remain sterile and free of contamination.
A hygienic or aseptic application requires additional special adjustments to the diaphragm pump head: A suitable pump head material such as stainless steel 1.4404 or, as an alternative, particularly corrosion-resistant austenitic materials such as 1.4439 or 1.4462 (Duplex), polished surfaces with an RA value < 0.8 µm and fluid chambers with minimal dead space and no gaps may make it possible to carry out CIP/SIP cleaning steps repeatedly and efficiently, thus ensuring sterile operation without dismantling. The design and installation of the pump should, however, allow for the cleaning results to be checked periodically while still minimizing the sterile interfaces in the pipe routing. Directives such as those of the European Hygienic Engineering Design Group (EHEDG) – specifically Document 17 (“Hygienic Design of Pumps, Homogenizers and Dampening Devices”) – or the 3-A Sanitary Standards 44-03 (“Sanitary Standards for Diaphragm Pumps”) and 04-05 (“Sanitary Standards for Homogenizers and Reciprocating Pumps”) provide information on how pumps for the food industry are to be designed and installed. Hygienic design aspects regarding cleaning and drainability of the pumps, valves and piping of sterile systems for the design of aseptic process connections of diaphragm pumps can also be found in the ASME BPE Standard in the version that is valid for the specific application.
Food & Beverage Measurement, Instrumentation, Control & Automation Plant Construction, Engineering & Components
In just a few seconds directly at the machine
Service support using Argos
With 2,700 technicians at more than 100 international facilities, Krones is well equipped worldwide to provide fast assistance to beverage producers in terms of maintenance and spare-part replacement or in the event of a complete line standstill. But the coronavirus pandemic has proved a stumbling block for this service set-up: flight cancellations, quarantine regulations or even entry bans are rendering it almost impossible to maintain rapid-response service support when it’s necessary. And this in a time when above all the demand for packaged water, but also for healthy beverages is rising perceptibly – and supplies to consumers still have to be assured.
In order to provide its clients with direct assistance, Krones offers a choice of support packages. To complement the existing round-the-clock support via telephone and remote service, Krones has since the end of 2018 already been offering the Argos Augmented Reality Support – and this is in such exceptional times more in demand than ever before. The ingenious bit about it is this: thanks to what are called smart glasses, the operator at the machine receives immediate assistance from a Krones support specialist – without the latter having to do any travelling.
Realtime support using smart glasses
The biggest advantage here is that if a problem occurs during ongoing production, the service specialist from Krones is thanks to Argos directly on site immediately. Using live video and audio transmission, the Krones expert is in the midst of the line within just a few seconds, enabling him to instruct the operator and to support him directly and unerringly in terms of trouble-shooting or performing urgently needed work, thus bringing production back on line as quickly as possible. If a supporter detects a critical situation, he can visually alert the wearer of the smart glasses.
The Argos basic package includes not only the smart glasses, but also all associated licences. On request, these can be extended to enable the system to be utilised by the beverage producer himself with other vendors of his own. What’s more, an option has recently been introduced for using not only the smart glasses provided by Krones, but also self-chosen models or even certain mobile phones and tablets. This enables the service support to be integrated even more effectively into the plant’s existing infrastructure.
1 billionth alu-free pack
Uptake grows for low-carbon aluminium-free solution
SIG’s Combibloc Eco Plus, the world’s first and only aluminium-free aseptic carton, has hit the major milestone of 1 billion packs filled. With the launch of Combibloc Eco Plus, SIG disrupted the market by eliminating the need for an aluminium foil barrier layer in aseptic beverage cartons for the first time, significantly reducing environmental impact. Strong and growing demand for this solution is supporting SIG’s ambition to go Way Beyond Good by helping to create a sustainable food supply system that puts more into the environment and society than it takes out. The 1 billionth pack was filled by DMK Group, Germany’s largest dairy cooperative. As an early adopter of Combibloc Eco Plus, DMK Group has played a decisive role in the success story of this low-carbon aseptic packaging solution for the dairy market.
Delivering for the environment
Aseptic beverage cartons already offer a significantly lower environmental footprint than alternative types of packaging due to their high proportion of renewable materials, light weight and efficient design. Combibloc Eco Plus cuts environmental impact even further by using an innovative composite structure to protect the contents without the need for aluminium foil. The pack is made up of 82% renewable paperboard – sourced from FSC-certified sustainable sources. The result is a 28 % lower carbon footprint than a conventional SIG carton in the same format, as shown by an independent lifecycle assessment by the independent Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU). SIG is the only company offering an aseptic carton pack without aluminium. Combibloc Eco Plus showcases the company’s commitment to sustainable innovation as it drives progress towards its Way Beyond Good ambition. The innovative aluminium-free structure also forms the basis for Signature Pack 100, the world’s first pack aseptic pack linked to 100% renewable materials.
Broad market appeal
Climate change has become a mainstream topic for consumers and SIG’s low-carbon Combibloc Eco Plus solution is helping customers meet growing demand for more sustainable packaging. Both sustainable and economic, Combibloc Eco Plus appeals across all categories from premium organic to price entry commodity, brands and private labels alike. Combibloc Eco Plus can be filled on standard beverage filling machines from SIG with a simple change to the filling parameters.
„Combibloc Eco Plus works for customers and for the planet,” said Frederic Faber, Marketing Account Manager D-A-CH at SIG. “It combines environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness like no other aseptic carton pack available on the market. This unique combination has made Combibloc Eco Plus appealing to SIG customers across a broad market spread, from premium brands to private labels“.
For consumers and the government, a maximum of safety and quality in the production of food is essential. In order to ensure the highest standards of hygiene, food producers and processors are obliged to clean their machinery regularly via washdowns. To guarantee that vacuum pumps are effectively protected from the used aggressive cleaning media, Leybold has developed a series of Hygienic Enclosures. The vacuum specialist offers users these stainless steel housings in seven different sizes, tailor made for each vacuum pump.
Risk of contamination eliminated
In the food industry, vacuum pumps are often placed directly next to the processing and packaging lines and thus not implemented in the equipment. On the one hand, this leads to a higher vacuum performance because, losses in pumping speed over longer pipelines are avoided. A direct positive consequence of this, are shorter process cycles and a better product quality. On the other hand, unprotected pumps are directly exposed to aggressive cleaning media during the rinsing processes. Over time, this leads to corroded vacuum pumps, shorter life cycles, higher costs and ultimately even to food contamination.
Effectively protected in stainless steel enclosures
In order to counteract these risks, Leybold has developed a new protection concept with the Hygienic Enclosures. Encased by these stainless steel enclosures, the vacuum pumps can be positioned near machines and systems without any problems. „On the basis of the protected Leybold vacuum pumps we can create better and more robust solutions for the demanding food applications“, emphasizes the responsible product manager Niels Gorrebeeck. „Of course, this applies all the more to applications such as stuffers, tumblers and of course packaging machines, where the machines and systems are cleaned and disinfected particularly frequently and intensively,“ the product manager explains.
Tailor made & easy to install
Gorrebeeck explains that these stainless steel enclosures are tailor made for each vacuum pump. As a result each enclosed pump can run constantly on every working pressure. The only limitation is the maximal ambient temperature for the enclosure. Nevertheless, the normal working temperature in F&P environments are around 10 °C, we qualified most enclosures up to 25 °C. Further all the enclosures are offered as a Do It Yourself kit and can be as well installed as commissioned by the user themselves without great effort. „These properties make of the Hygienic Enclosures a cost-effective, sustainable solution. In the end, Hygienic Enclosures makes investments in expensive piping obsolete and at the same moment they offer a better pumping speed performance“, argues Niels Gorrebeeck.
Incidentally, this also applies not least with regard to future packaging concepts. Gorrebeeck believes that the industry is also well equipped for this with the new enclosures: „Regardless of which solutions will prevail, food applications can be operated from today more hygienically, ergonomically as well as flexibly. Leybold can successfully accompany these processes into the future with our holistic solution approaches.“